Friday, March 9, 2012

First Page Friday

I saw this quote today and thought I would share. It's so beautiful!

"Alas for those who never sing but die with all their music still in them." - Oliver Wendell Holmes

So, so true about writing or any art where you are expressing yourself.

Today is First Page Friday. Yay! Just to let you know we still have an opening in March if you or anyone you know would like to have their first page critiqued by a national editor. Just submit it to with First Page Friday in the subject heading.

Here's this week's submission!

The Entry
Fingers Crossed

by Bridget Straub

I am sitting at the top of the bleachers in a cold high school gymnasium, freezing my ass off. My eleven year old daughter Nicole is down on the floor with her best friend Danielle shooting hoops, missing shot after shot. She’s a better defensive player than she is on offense.

Next to me, sighing on her cell phone, is Lana, my best friend, and she is about to leave her husband, Jeff. I always knew this day would come, if for no other reason than the fact that his name is Jeff. Jeffs don’t stay married. They are too invested in having fun. I love Jeff, but I wish they would just get on with it now.

Lana hangs up and looks at me. She wants me to run away with her next weekend so that she can figure this all out, and my husband Luc has told me I can’t go.

“He’s not the boss of you, you know,” she tells me.

I can’t help but laugh at her.

“I need you,” she whines, adding, “a lot more than stupid old Luc.”

A whistle is blown, and the kids are told to clear the floor because the game is about to start. Corey yells up to Lana that Garrett won’t move. Corey is Lana’s eleven year old son and Garrett is her four year old, and a brat. Like Jeff, he has the most irresistible smile I’ve ever seen. Garrett won’t be able to stay married either.

Lana climbs down to grab him, and as she does so, Luc comes in with our other three kids and the box of donuts they have picked for the team snack. Like Lana, we, too, have a bratty four year old with a devilish smile, and as Luc stops to say hi to Nicole, Garrett breaks free to run over to Gatién and have a grand old reunion. You’d think they haven’t seen each other for weeks, when in fact they attend the same preschool and were together just yesterday.

Ms. Shreditor's Comments

In this story, we have a narrator sitting on the sidelines during her daughter's basketball game. The problem is that she's also sitting on the sidelines of her own story. On this first page, we learn plenty about Nicole, Lana, Jeff, Luc, Corey, and Garrett. While we know that Lana is about to leave her husband and that Nicole is no basketball virtuoso, we don't even learn the narrator's name.

All we know about her, in fact, is that she's married to a man named Luc and has several children. It's a bit hard to keep count because the first page introduces two sets of kids. I mentioned this in last week's critique and will repeat it here: Avoid cluttering up the first page with too many names, and introduce characters more gradually. Bringing in too many characters right off the bat accomplishes two things: overwhelming the reader and stealing spotlight from the character driving the story.

Consider carefully what kind of character you want this narrator to be. My impression of her after one page is that she's very judgmental. She's downright self-congratulatory about having called the demise of her best friend's marriage, and she offers up the puzzling "Jeffs don't stay married" theory. I'd avoid stereotypes based on names altogether, but I've never heard one like this about the name Jeff. I suspect that the intention here was to establish the narrator as snarky and witty, but I think it backfired a bit. The narrator goes on to call four-year-old Garrett a brat who will end up just like his father. It's honest, but it's also a pretty harsh sentence for a kid who isn't even in kindergarten yet.

Random question: Would parents serve up doughnuts as the team snack at a basketball game? I remember healthier snacks (e.g., orange slices) from my youth.

As for the narrator's "bratty four-year-old," is the child male or female? Specify in the second sentence of the last paragraph. The story also needs to make it clearer that Gatién is the aforementioned "bratty four-year-old." In one sentence, we have a mention of this unnamed four-year-old, and in the next we have Garrett running toward the previously unmentioned Gatién. (Note: I looked up spellings of this name in both Québécois and standard French and found that it was almost always spelled without the accent mark. In fact, Google turned up only 578 search results with the accent mark versus three million without.)

I've gotten wrapped up in some of the finer details, only because this first page presents us with so many of them. A reader will have to do the same sort of sifting, and the last thing you want is for someone to have to draw up a chart to keep all the names straight after only one page. These things can kill a book proposal, whether you're pitching to an agent or directly to an acquiring editor.

So I'll end by asking the questions this sample hasn't answered: Who is this narrator? What is the story here? What is at stake for this character? Why do we learn so much about everyone but her?

[Finally, in brackets because it's more an aside than anything else: I suspect that the somewhat salty word in the first sentence will draw some comments. I have no problem with it, and it sounds far more natural to me than any euphemism would. I may end up dodging tomatoes on this one, but I find most euphemisms to be cheesy. However, if you are pitching this to a market that promotes clean language, profanity in the first sentence will be an immediate deal-breaker.]

I'd like to thank Ms. Shreditor and Bridget for their time and effort. See you next week!

1 comment:

Debra Erfert said...

Yes, Ms. Shreditor, that "a**" word immediately defined the character to me. That one three-letter word put her into a lower class, IMOHO. And if that is on the very first page, and in the very first paragraph--first sentence, then I wouldn't hold out hope for a semi-clean story. I would put the book back on the shelf at that point without giving it a second thought.

I also found the MC very depressing with her bleak outlook on her friend's marriage and child. So sad.

What are they doing in a high school gym? Who were they watching? It sounds like the kids were too young to be playing there.

My kids played soccer for years, and when it was our turn to bring snacks, only approved items would be allowed. Not donuts, or cookies, or cake would be on that list. Sliced oranges would be the break snake of choice, for energy, but after the game was over, then fruit roll-ups and juice boxes were tops.